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May Day rally in Istanbul's Taksim Square draws thousands of laborers

ISTANBUL — Daily News with wires | 5/1/2010 12:00:00 AM |

More than 200,000 people gathered in Istanbul's Taksim Square for Saturday's May Day celebrations, which by midday were marred only by a protest of a union chief. (UPDATED)

More than 200,000 people gathered in Istanbul's Taksim Square for Saturday's May Day celebrations, which by midday were marred only by a protest of a union chief.

Police deployed more than 22,000 officers for the rally, the first in Taksim Square since 1978.

A group of workers protested the head of the Confederation of Turkish Labor Unions, or Türk İş, as he took the stage to make a speech on Saturday afternoon.

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PHOTO GALLERY: Thousands rally for workers' rights in Istanbul's Taksim Square

Mustafa Kumlu was forced to leave the stage and seek shelter in the Atatürk Culture Center, or AKM, after workers from various organizations — Tekel, the former state alcohol and tobacco monopoly; İSKİ, the water and sewage directorate; and a fire brigade — began a protest. Some of the protesters threw stones, breaking some of the culture center's windows, Anatolia news agency reported.  

After the protest, the stage remained empty and the crowd began to disperse. The speeches restarted later.

[HH] More than 200,000

Long columns of participants, carrying colorful party and union flags, marched into Taksim Square from three points after a strict search by police as songs celebrating laborers blared out of loudspeakers at the site.

More than 200,000 gathered in the square, including workers’ organizations, political parties, intellectuals and other groups. The Turkish Journalists Union, or TGS, participated in the gathering; its members carried their cameras. They also held up a banner that read, "Media boss, who is enemy to laborers."

Banners displayed by other groups in the crowd read, “Your murders, your September 12 cannot deter us. We are here after 33 years,” “Secure job and a humane life,” “Job, Bread, Freedom,” and “Our stone throwing kids should be released.”

Many people passed over the barriers surrounding the Monument of the Republic in Taksim Square and climbed on the sculpture. They held banners and flags, chanted slogans, and took pictures of each other on the monument.

[HH] May Day in Taksim

Taksim Square was declared off-limits in 1978. During a May Day rally in the square in 1977 when gunmen, believed to be far-right militants aided by members of the intelligence services, fired on a peaceful crowd, triggering mass panic.

The deaths came at a time of severe political tensions and street violence between leftist and rightist militants in Turkey, which culminated in a military coup in 1980.

In the past, trade unions have tried to hold rallies at Taksim Square in defiance of the ban, but met with a heavy police crackdown that left dozens injured and hundreds in detention.

The government's decision to fully open the square to May day celebrations comes after Parliament reinstated May Day as a national holiday in 2009 and allowed a limited group of union leaders and workers into Taksim on May 1 to commemorate the 1977 bloodshed.

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